Emotiva DMC-1 Preamp/Processor and MPS-1 Multichannel Power Amplifier Page 2
Although the DMC-1 lacks the Lexicon MC-12's or Meridian 861's extensive choices for expanding 2-channel digital sources into multichannel music, its limited options can still create convincing multichannel surround. The DTS Neo:6 Music setting did a fine job on my own live concert recordings as well as most commercial releases. It reminded me of Lexicon's Logic 7 and Meridian's Tri-field modes since it introduced no front-speaker steering while giving everything a greater sense of dimensionality.
On the other hand, the DMC-1's overall depth recreation, even in surround modes, lagged slightly behind the Lexicon and Meridian units. Through the DMC-1, the distances between the front and back of the soundstage was slightly truncated, and most of the spatial definition at the back half of the stage was reduced.
Harmonically, the DMC-1's active circuitry conveyed a clear and slightly matter-of-fact presentation that's closer to the Lexicon MC-12 than the Meridian 861. Unlike the Meridian, which produces a rare level of musicality and minimal electronic signature, the DMC-1's more typical solid-state electronic coloration reduces its ability to totally disappear. While not severe, this coloration gives the DMC-1's harmonic balance a slightly lean character through its midrange and lower midrange. Even when compared to the Lexicon, the DMC-1 delivers less harmonic complexity in the lower midrange.
Low bass response ranks as the DMC-1's most impressive harmonic attribute. Because of its leaner lower midrange and upper bass, its low bass seems more prominent. With impressive clarity and speed, the DMC-1's low bass definitely gets your attention. Whether it was a double-bass line in a live concert CD or the sound of a spaceship winking into warp on a Star Trek: Voyager DVD, the DMC-1 conveyed bass fundamentals with aplomb.
At the other end of the frequency range, the DMC-1 rendered extreme high-frequency information with minimal artificiality. On cymbals, flutes, and violins, the DMC-1's top end remained articulate without becoming etched. It sounded very much like the Lexicon MC-12, with only a fraction less delicacy and finesse. It was not as liquid or musical as the Meridian 861, but the DMC-1's upper frequencies still retained a level of veracity that prevents cymbals from sounding like fried eggs.
In its role as a video switcher, the DMC-1 performed flawlessly on standard-definition sources from my DirecTV receiver and VCR. Its component upconversion from S-Video performs on a par with the internal 480i output from the older Toshiba SD-9200 DVD player I had on hand. However, I didn't find the DMC-1's 480i signal to be quite as good as a 480i component feed direct from the Lexicon RT-10. The Lexicon had lower video noise, grain, and fewer motion artifacts. Since the DMC-1 has no video adjustments, it also can't provide the same level of picture control as the RT-10 player. But for bringing regular NTSC sources up to a higher standard without employing an expensive outboard converter, the DMC-1 did the job rather nicely. Too bad it can't provide switching capabilities for DVI sources as well.
The Power of the MPS-1
On the basis of cost per channel ($285), the MPS-1 ranks as the least expensive power amplifier I've auditioned in quite some time.
I did experience one problem when setting up the amp. When I turned it on after installing all the modules, the module in the channel #1 position was inoperative. That wasn't a disaster for the review, because I have a 5.1 system. In fact, for most of my listening, I used just three channels driving the front speakers. If I had needed it, however, a replacement module could have been sent and swapped out with little fuss. A fresh module was sent to Los Angeles for the bench tests shown at the end of this report.
Despite its modest cost, the MPS-1 delivered impressive sonic results. Compared to the 3-channel Pass X3 power amp ($4500), the MPS-1 had a noticeably cooler and less romantic harmonic balance. Depending on the source, this more matter-of-fact harmonic presentation can be good or bad. With the Lexicon RT-10 in direct analog passthrough mode from the DMC-1, the MPS-1 sounded amazingly good. Its very slightly dry harmonic character gave the RT-10's sound an extra bit of articulation that was not unappealing. Using the DMC-1's D/As on the same source material, the MPS-1 sounded more electronic and a tad dynamically limited, but I would lay this sonic shortcoming at the feet of the DMC-1 rather than the MPS-1.
The Bel Canto EVO-2 ($3290, 2-channel, may be bridged) also far outclasses the MPS-1 in terms of overall musicality and natural harmonic timbre. The EVO-2's 3-dimensionality leaves most other digital and solid-state amplifiers I've heard in the dust, and the MPS-1 was no exception. But the MPS-1's dynamic contrast and ability to deliver effortless power equaled the EVO-2. Also, the MPS-1's low-level definition and lateral imaging precision kept up with the far more expensive EVO-2.
Although I no longer have the Bryston Powerpack 300 amps on hand for direct A/B comparisons, their sound is still fresh in my audiophile memory banks. The MPS-1 shares similar harmonic characteristics with the Brystons. Both are on the dry and lean side of absolute harmonic neutrality. Both also deliver substantial levels of slam and dynamic power. The Brystons are more flexible because they are monoblocks, and they are quieter because they have no fans. Plus they offer that amazing 20-year warranty. Still, when you compare the price of five channels of Bryston Powerpack 300 amplification ($8475) with seven channels of MPS-1 ($2000), it doesn't take a math whiz to see the MPS-1 easily wins the price/performance race for price-sensitive home theater applications.
The more I listened to the MPS-1, the more impressed I was by its sound. With specifications of 200 watts into 8Ω and 400 watts into 2Ω, the MPS-1 promises enough brute force to drive even difficult speaker loads. I sold my Apogee speakers many years ago, so I couldn't test the MPS-1 with a 2Ω speaker. But the MPS-1 displayed no signs of sonic distress driving the Genesis 6.1 speaker system, which has a lower-than-standard impedance. On DVD movie blockbusters including Pearl Harbor, Lost in Space, and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, my ears gave out long before the MPS-1 showed even the slightest evidence of strain.
The negative points against the MPS-1 are minor. It has a lower sensitivity in balanced XLR mode compared to most amplifiers I've reviewed recently. But even with its lower sensitivity, the MPS-1 still delivered ample gain. I also noticed the MPS-1 had a bit higher basic self-noise at idle than the Pass X-3 or Bel Canto EVO-2. Still, in a quiet listening environment, the MPS-1's base noise level is still way below a point where it could be a problem.
But those cooling fans are another story. After about 45 minutes of listening to my own live recordings, the MPS-1's cooling fans were all doing their thing, and they became a noticeable distraction. During movies, especially if you have a projector with a cooling fan or color wheel (that includes 99% of 'em), the MPS-1's fans won't be a problem, but for critical music listening, they may become an issue.
When used together, the DMC-1/MPS-1 combination makes a strong sonic and visual statement. For videophiles accustomed to A/V receivers, the Emotiva combination could be a real ear-opener. Even for high-end audio regulars like myself, the Emotiva combo offers an attractive budget alternative to far more expensive components. Long on style, features, and performance, the DMC-1 and MPS-1 permit hobbyists on limited budgets to assemble an eminently satisfying home theater system.
When you unite Emotiva's hardware with their impeccable service and support, you have an almost unbeatable combination. Sure, it would be better if the DMC-1 had DVI/HDMI switching and the MPS-1 didn't need cooling fans, but even with these deficiencies, this Emotiva duo certainly rates high marks. At the end of the day, I could live happily with this system, and, I suspect, so could you.
Highs and Lows (DMC-1)
Excellent sound quality
Analog bypass for LP, SACD, and DVD-A
No DVI or HDMI switching
Limited DSP modes for 2-channel sources
Careful setup required to minimize hum from ground loops
Highs and Lows (MPS-1)
Dynamic, powerful sound
Modular design for ease of moving and setup
Possible reliability concerns